Review: Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2 – A classic RPG that time hasn’t been too kind to

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (docked)

In the early 2000s, the Dark Alliance sub-series of the Baldur’s Gate franchise was created as a means of bringing the Baldur’s Gate experience to console gamers. Whether due to hardware limitations or simply a lack of audience interest at the time, the traditional computer role-playing game design of Baldur’s Gate wouldn’t work for a console game, so Snowblind decided to go with a video game instead. action role for Dark Alliance. It turned out to be the right move as audiences loved it so a sequel was soon greenlit to keep the momentum going. Now that it’s been re-released on modern platforms, how does it compare? Well, Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2 is a better game than its predecessor, yes; Unfortunately, time hasn’t been kind to this release.

Dark Alliance 2’s plot is as basic as it gets, centering around an evil vampire who kidnaps the heroes of the first Dark Alliance and terrorizes the region around the city of Baldur’s Gate. You take on the role of a new hero who comes to town seeking fame and fortune, but your hero ultimately finds himself drawn into the effort to fight the vampire and bring peace to the surrounding region.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (docked)

It’s not much to write home about, but the plot does a great job of setting the scene and ensuring a consistently heavy atmosphere. Also, the story unfolds in a somewhat non-linear way in all the various missions you choose. These can be delightfully interesting in their own way, like when you explore a mysterious mansion and find the owner conducting horrific experiments inside. Clearly the story isn’t the focus here, but what’s on offer manages to set a nice tone, even if none of it is very memorable or interesting.

The gameplay in Dark Alliance 2 is best described as a simpler version of the typical DevilRPG style action RPG formula. You start by choosing one of five character classes (plus two unlockables) that specialize in different skills and abilities, and then embark on a semi-open-world adventure viewed from an isometric angle. Things are relatively linear for the first few hours, but the scope gradually widens as more locations are unlocked and you can pick up more side quests from NPCs. As you kill monsters and enemies, you collect gold and experience which you can then invest in new equipment and class abilities. It’s a good example of the genre in that it ticks all the necessary boxes, but the execution here is underwhelming, to say the least.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (handheld/undocked)

The main problem with this setup is that it bleeds drag even in the early stages of the campaign. At least on normal difficulty, the enemies are rarely challenging enough to pose any real threat to your character, and you only get attacked by a few at a time because that was all the original hardware could realistically handle. Still, most of the enemies are tanky enough that they take too long to fall, even when you’re well equipped. This means that your typical fight consists of simply holding down the attack button, occasionally switching positions, and just sitting there while you wait for your character to take out nearby enemies.

There’s no weight to combat, and no dynamic elements to keep things interesting. Using special attacks or spells can help break this up a bit, but there isn’t much depth here to let you set up interesting flows for higher DPS. Also, you run out of mana for these special attacks ridiculously quickly, which means you have to keep burning stamina potions to recharge it or just wait a while for it to come back up.

Build variety also feels quite limited, as there aren’t many ways to play around with creative damage mitigation or increase your own output, but the gear system helps a bit in this regard. Not long after your quest, you can start upgrading equipment using runes and gems you find on your travels and these can imbue armor and weapons with useful properties. Aquamarine, for example, will add cold damage or cold resistance depending on whether it’s placed on a weapon or armor. Put two different types of gems on a piece of gear and a new passive ability will spawn that feeds off of both. We appreciate how this system introduces a bit more player agency to keep the ongoing grind interesting, but it’s hampered by the shallow skill pool.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (handheld/undocked)

Another major drawback here is that the multiplayer mode is quite limited. There is support for local co-op (same screen, not two separate Switches) with two players, but not online, presumably because the original 2004 release didn’t include it. This was certainly acceptable eighteen years ago, but today it tends to make Dark Alliance 2 feel much older. Playing locally is fine, of course, if you have a friend available who wants to play, but this offline issue is one that we feel should have been addressed when it was decided to remaster this release.

All of this is to say that the biggest problem that lies at the heart of Dark Alliance 2 is simply that it hasn’t aged well. Things like smaller environments and slower, less complicated gameplay aren’t quite bad, but they do not meet today’s most advanced design principles for the genre. Games like those of the Devil or torchlight series (not to mention the ever-increasing path of exile) have ballooned so far in terms of game design and scope beyond what Dark Alliance 2 has to offer that it’s almost impossible to seriously recommend it to potential new players. Why bother playing a slower, jankier, and generally more boring version of a genre that has scaled to substantially higher heights? Especially when there’s nothing distinctive to significantly distinguish it from newer releases?

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (handheld/undocked)

Graphically, it’s clear that Dark Alliance 2 is an update to a much older title, and the result here is somewhat lackluster. Sharper character models, HD textures, and 60FPS performance mean Dark Alliance 2 looks better than ever, but its art style is pretty hit and miss given its simplicity. This is as utilitarian and basic as ‘high fantasy’, with no room for style or imaginative new concepts. You fight against a group of orcs, goblins and bats that look exactly how you think they would look and spend your time exploring caves, dungeons and forests that are equally “safe” in their interpretation. Still, it’s hard to say there isn’t some notable appeal here. For one thing, the unimaginative environmental design and drab color palette used doesn’t inspire much excitement when you stumble upon yet another new area. On the other hand, there’s something oddly gripping about the grittier kind of world design that creates a gloomy atmosphere that you don’t see very often in games released these days.

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Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2 is one of those games that acts as an important benchmark for realizing how far a genre has come in the last two decades. While it was probably once considered a solid and perhaps even slightly edgy example of an ARPG, it has now been resolutely left in the dust by more modern releases. The slow combat, monotonous environmental design, and low build variety hold it back considerably, though it’s saved a bit by its equipment upgrade system and dark atmosphere. Nostalgia-seeking fans already know what they think of this release and have probably already bought it, but if you’re a newcomer thinking of buying, we recommend you stop by. This simply isn’t a good enough game to justify the $30 price tag at the time of writing, and there are much better examples of the genre on Switch that are more worth your time and money.

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